“I was interested in that tourist attraction component like they have in Tillamook,” Neal says. In addition to Tillamook’s cheese production, Neal saw an opportunity for the port to open its own agricultural tourist center.
“It’s important for people to understand that there are a lot of technological advancements in agriculture in our region,” Neal says. “We think we are probably one of the most sophisticated regions in the world when it comes to agriculture and food processing.”
Neal convinced the port’s directors to move forward. The Sustainable Agriculture and Energy Center (or SAGE Center) began providing visitors with a glimpse into the region’s crop production in 2013.
Among exhibits in the center’s main hall, a simulated hot-air balloon ride takes visitors on a virtual tour over the area’s farmland and a modern farming exhibit showcases current technology.
Conveniently located along Interstate 84 in Boardman, the center in Eastern Oregon has attracted roughly 40,000 visitors in its first two years, including thousands of schoolchildren.
“Educational tours are a huge part of what we do,” says Kalie Davis, SAGE Center manager. “We try to educate kids about where their food comes from.”
Word-of-mouth seems to be one of the center’s best means of advertisement.
“Everybody that comes through is pleasantly surprised and tells their friends and family about the SAGE Center,” Davis says.